The start of a new year is a good time to reflect on our ambitions for the year ahead and acknowledge the mistakes we've made. Some errors are easy to remedy, while others require us to change our behavior in more substantial ways.
Here are four mistakes I commonly see Customer Success teams make and how to address them.
1. Being too focused on the day to day
Defining your customers' goals and working to accomplish these objectives together is a critical component of any Customer Success process. That said, CSMs need to be careful to avoid plateauing at this tactical level of goal → execution.
Meeting goals from one quarter to the next doesn't necessarily guarantee a healthy and long-term relationship. I once had a client cancel their multimillion dollar contract when they laid off thousands of local salespeople. Another switched to a competing product that offered a feature they deemed pivotal in servicing a new market they wanted to capture.
We had reliably exceeded their stated objectives quarter over quarter — so what had I missed?
Customers often find it difficult to articulate their needs or forget to factor you into their future plans. They might request a long list of new functionality and features, which makes it challenging to zero in on which ones are most important. And then there are features your customers don't even know they want until they see them somewhere else.
In both of the examples above, I had been so consumed in the day to day that I lost track of their company's broader initiatives or major shifts in their industry.
Getting bogged down in the day to day reduces a CSM's ability to track and influence key strategy changes. Checking items off a to-do list means you're not looking past what the customer's needs are today, which ultimately limits your ability to continue delivering value far into the future.
2. Sending emails to "check in"
Be honest, when was the last time you sent a customer an email just to check in and ask how they're doing?
Keeping in touch with customers is crucial, but sending a "check in" message isn't just an ineffective way to get a pulse a customer's progress, it can also harm the relationship. In order to build a foundation of mutual respect, you need to provide value. Commit to delivering value at every interaction in the form of strategic insight, targeted recommendations, or a thoughtful point of view.
Want to take a deeper dive into how to re-engage unresponsive customers? Read this article.
3. Poor communication during times of crisis
Few companies are able to completely avoid some type of "crisis" in a given year.
During these critical moments CSMs are often inundated with calls and emails from customers demanding an explanation or update, and it can be tempting to hunker down and avoid responding until everything has been resolved. Doing so is a huge mistake since times of crisis can come to define your relationship with customers.
When you hear the term "crisis" your mind probably goes straight to a lurid TechCrunch story about founder infighting, a security breach that exposed credit card data, or rumors of major layoffs.
Most SaaS crises come in a less sensationalized form — a software outage. Here's an outline for how to handle this type of crisis:
After acknowledging the issue, share whatever initial information you have.
Next, let customers know when you'll be releasing another update. Publishing updates on a predefined schedule help CSMs appropriately manage expectations and signals that your team is actively working on a solution.
Determine who you should notify
No one likes to over publicize their problems, but customers also deserve to know when there’s an issue that could affect their business.
Will a message suffice until you have a better sense of who's been impacted? Can you limit your communication to key customer points of contact, or do you need to email all users?
Knowing who you're reaching out to also allows you to tailor your messaging.
Review what happened
Fixing the issue doesn't necessarily put an end to the crisis.
First, review if this outage was a violation of any SLAs or contract requirements. Second, issue an internal and external post-moratorium on what happened and how your team responded.
The internal review will shed light on how you could have prevented the issue or responded more effectively, and the external review builds confidence that you won't make the same mistakes again.
4. Going dark until 2 weeks before renewal
Picture this: you're updating Q1 account plans for each of your customers when you land on the name of your longest tenured and most stable customer. You haven't proactively contacted them in a few months because you've been busy, and they haven't reached out with any questions. One of the fields in the account plan is "renewal date" and, to your horror, you notice that their contract is up for renewal in 2 weeks.
You begin to rack your brain — during your last call, did you discuss how they plan to use your product in the year ahead? Did you show them new product features that will improve their workflows?
While you'll make a last ditch effort to impact their renew decision, you realize it might be too late.
How can you ensure you don't inadvertently leave this renewal conversation until the final hour? Map the customer experience lifecycle and customize your interactions based on the stage they're in. Then, tie these lifecycle stages to an engagement model.
Need some inspiration to map your customer lifecycle? This article outlines 7 categories of customer lifecycle events.
At a high level, an engagement model includes meeting such as QBRs, monthly calls, bi-weekly usage updates, etc. and trickles down to individual user-level touch points such as onboarding and survey feedback. Customer Success software like Natero can help ensure major lifecycle milestones such as account renewals don't catch you by surprise.
When it comes to making meaningful change there's no time like the present! Your customers will thank you for no longer making these 4 mistakes in the year ahead.